Chilton, Charles

Tagged: Author | Radio

(1917-2013) UK Radio producer and scriptwriter whose three sf novels comprise a rewrite into novel form of his three-part BBC radio series, Journey Into Space (1953-1956), which he produced and wrote, and which were – and have remained through rebroadcasts – extremely popular. The individual volumes are Journey Into Space (1954), novelizing the first story (broadcast 21 September 1952 to 19 January 1954); The Red Planet (1956), novelizing the second series (broadcast 6 September 1954 to 17 January 1955); and The World in Peril (1960), novelizing the third series (broadcast 26 September 1955 to 6 February 1956). The first radio series, originally subtitled A Tale of the Future, was re-recorded as the shorter Operation Luna, compressed mainly by the omission of four earthbound episodes (broadcast 26 March 1958 to 18 June 1958). The protagonists of the overall sequence, as initially conceived with inspiration from G A Henty (1832-1902), are barely more interesting than the usual Boys' Paper stalwarts: Jet Morgan, the pilot; Mitch, the inventor; Lemmy, the Cockney radio operator; and Doc, the viewpoint narrator; but these portraits deepen as the author begins to write for his actors, just as the documentary-like exposition of the first flight to the Moon that begins the narrative also becomes more complex: a race that travels through space by Time Travel is encountered in the first volume; and in the main story the chums defend Earth from what seems initially to be an inimical race on Mars, which has almost conquered Earth through the use of "conditioned" human slaves indistinguishable from normals, but this unusual British evocation of 1950s Cold War Paranoia is subverted through the benignity of the solitary remaining Martian, whose remote control (but weaponless) force is invading Earth partly for lebensraum but also to save the planet from its predatory and destructive dominant race. The Martian's failure to conquer Earth – because humans love freedom so deeply – might be perceived in the twenty-first century as a mixed blessing (see Ecology), and in the twentieth century was clearly no blessing at all for the story's non-WASPs and lower orders, many of whom abandon Earth with the Martian for a better life in space. (This third serial caused interest within sf for its "rebels' song", based on Robert A Heinlein's Rhysling ballad from "The Green Hills of Earth" [8 February 1947 Saturday Evening Post] and used thanks to Chilton's friendship with an American producer.) Chilton also wrote further Jet Morgan adventures for a Comic strip in Express Weekly and its annual 1956-1957, illustrated mainly by Ferdinando Tacconi. A much later ninety-minute alternate ending to the original radio series, The Return from Mars (broadcast 7 March 1981), presents issues of limited resources, Eugenics and population control, which the listener can relate to our own headstrong rush into world Disaster. Chilton increasingly emphasized personal concerns through his character Lemmy, a Cockney air radio operator like Chilton himself. Lemmy was played memorably by Alfie Bass in the surviving trilogy, although David Kossoff in the original "Tale of the Future" had voiced the line "mice" better and had renamed the character Lemuel from Chilton's original Bert. A belated extension to the series was "Frozen in Time" (broadcast 12 April 2008); the further sequel "The Host" (broadcast 27 June 2009) was not by Chilton.

Chilton had been with the BBC from his teenage years, and had become a prominent producer/writer by the 1950s – indeed a household name for his Riders of the Range radio westerns and their spin-offs. He was thus already a highly accomplished radio scriptwriter when the BBC invited him to essay sf, choosing Chilton because "anyone who can write westerns can write a science-fiction." Journey Into Space became UK radio's last great nationwide success before television captured the mass audience. Chilton's dialogue skills and background in amateur astronomy brought a gripping authenticity to these radio serials; the later novelizations remain mere souvenirs. He produced various episodes of the famous Goon Show (see Spike Milligan), compiled the World War One radio documentary The Long, Long Trail (1961), and from 1965 was intimately involved in writing and producing various radio and stage-musical iterations of Oh, What a Lovely War!, which was eventually filmed by Joan Littlewood as Oh! What a Lovely War (1969). After The Return to Mars had re-established his sf credentials he produced and wrote two further sf radio series: Space Force (broadcast 4 April 1984 to 9 May 1984) and Space Force II (broadcast 13 May 1985 to 17 June 1985). He was awarded an MBE in 1976. Auntie's Charlie: An Autobiography (2011) focuses absorbingly on his radio work. The brief radio documentary Journey Into Space ... Again (broadcast 20 July 1999) includes recollections from Chilton and others. [JC/DR]

see also: Space Flight.

Charles Frederick William Chilton

born London: 15 June 1917

died 2 January 2013

works

series

Journey into Space

  • Journey Into Space (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1954) [tie: novelization of his own script: Journey Into Space: hb/J W Jobson]
  • The Red Planet (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1956) [tie: novelization of his own script: Journey Into Space: hb/J W Jobson]
  • The World in Peril (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1960) [tie: novelization of his own script: Journey Into Space: hb/J W Jobson]

individual titles

  • Oh What a Lovely War (London: Methuen, 1965) with the Theatre Workshop and Joan Littlewood (here uncredited) [play: complex authorship variously credited: hb/]

nonfiction

links

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